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Singapore to replace F-16s with F-35s

written by australianaviation.com.au | January 23, 2019

Singapore Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen inspects a USAF F-35A during a visit to Luke AFB in Arizona. (SG MINDEF)
Singapore Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen inspects a USAF F-35A during a visit to Luke AFB in Arizona. (SG MINDEF)

The Singapore government has picked the Lockheed Martin F-35 to replace its fleet of F-16 fighters.

The Ministry for Defence said in a statement on its website on January 18 the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) had settled on the F-35 after completing their technical evaluations.

“The technical evaluation also concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet,” the statement said.

“In the next phase, MINDEF will discuss details with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35 JSFs for Singapore’s defence capabilities.”

Singapore Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said on his Facebook page the country’s F-16s that have been in service since 1998 would have to retire soon after 2030, even accounting for some mid-life upgrades.

“That’s not very far away, just over 10 years, to acquire their replacement and, just as important, to build the logistic support and train pilots individually and as a fleet to guard our skies,” Dr Ng said.

While Dr Ng acknowledged that the technical evaluation took longer than expected, he said it was necessary as “they had to go through in detail specifications and needs, which they could only do after developmental flight testing of the F-35s was completed in early 2018”.


“Our agencies will now have to speak to their US counterparts to move the process forward, which may take 9 – 12 months before a decision is made.

“Even then, we want to procure a few planes first, to fully evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 before deciding on the acquisition of a full fleet. We must prepare well and cater enough time to replace our F-16s.”


The intensive study and technical evaluation process commenced in 2013 but was paused for two years due to ongoing delays to the JSF program and a decision to upgrade the RSAF’s F-16s.

It resumed in 2017. Along with Israel, Singapore has been a JSF Program Security Cooperation Participant (SCP) since 2004, which has given it an insight into the program’s development and status throughout its often-troubled development.

Currently, the RSAF operates about 60 F-16C/D Block 52s and Block 52 D+ Advanced models, the oldest of which entered service in 1998. All of the F-16s are currently being upgraded to the latest F-16V standard with AESA radars and other improvements, and the RSAF maintains a training detachment of the jets at Luke AFB in Arizona.

Singapore operates 60 F-16C/D Block 52 (foreground) and Block 52 D+ Advanced (background) fighters. (Andrew Mclaughlin)
Singapore operates 60 F-16C/D Block 52 (foreground) and Block 52 D+ Advanced (background) fighters. (Andrew Mclaughlin)

The evaluation recommended the acquisition initially of a small number of F-35s for a full evaluation and assessment before the RSAF commits to a full fleet of between 40 and 60 aircraft to equip three squadrons. It is unclear whether the RSAF favours the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A model, or the short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, or a mix of both.


Comment (1)

  • Bill Keech


    Why would Singapore need the B model F-35?

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